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Rare Ibis-form Holy Water Container

North Central India
18th century or earlier

height: 15.8cm, weight: 268g



private collection, London

This container is in the form of an ibis or some other aquatic bird and was used to store (and preserve) holy water. Probably it was used by a pilgrim to hold sacred water from the Ganges.

It is of hammered copper sheet, has been made in two parts: the spherical base, and the neck and mouth. The two parts have been jointed with solder and perhaps pitch.

It is likely the based was filled with water and then the neck was added and secured with solder, pitch or resin. The beak is thin and has only a very tiny aperture so that the water would not evaporate and could only be dispensed a drip at a time, underscoring its preciousness.

A related example is illustrated in Bussabarger & Dashew Robins (1968, p. 81).

The item has a resemblance to flasks from ancient Egypt no doubt on account of similar associations with water birds and life-giving sacred waters.

The example here has a very deep patina. It is certainly 18th century at least and quite possibly much older.


Bussabarger, R.F. & B. Dashew Robins, The Everyday Art of India, Dover, 1968.

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